Hague prosecutors asked to investigate reported war crimes against migrants in Libya

NGOs claim Italy and Malta governments were complicit in abuse of asylum seekers

Libya has become a key conduit for migrants making desperate bids to reach Europe. Many end up stranded in the country where they are prey to abuse at the hands of people-trafficking gangs, rights groups say. AFP
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Human rights groups have asked the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate possible war crimes that were perpetrated against migrants being detained in Libya

Three European NGOs — StraLi, based in Italy, the Dutch group UpRights and France's Adala for All — claim thousands of asylum seekers, including children, endured systematic abuse by Libyan armed groups between 2017 and 2021 as they attempted the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe.

They also claim officials in Malta and Italy were complicit in the abuse after they “acted in a co-ordinated manner with the Libyan coastguard in the recovery of migrants to ensure that they were intercepted and returned to Libya".

The activists, who issued the request this week, said the incidents should be investigated as war crimes under Article 8 of the International Criminal Court Statute and as crimes against humanity under Article 7, InfoMigrants said.

Ramadan Amani, spokesman for Adala for All, said there was “evidence of pervasive international crimes on Europe’s doorstep".

Last year, investigators commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body also found evidence of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in the North African country.

The first findings from a “fact-finding mission” commissioned by the Human Rights Council chronicle crimes including murder, torture, enslavement, extrajudicial killings and rape.

Illegal crossings into southern Europe from Libya and Tunisia — in pictures

The report also cited findings from “reliable organisations” that about 87,000 migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard since 2016, including about 7,000 that are currently in centres run by the Department for Combating Illegal Migration.

“Our investigations have established that all parties to the conflict, including third-state foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law, in particular the principle of proportionality and distinction,” said Mohamed Auajjar, a former Moroccan justice minister who led the team.

“Some have also committed war crimes.”

Libya remains the most popular departure point for illegal crossings into southern Europe, the European Border and Guard Agency said. It added that there has been an up to 83 per cent increase in crossings in the past 21 months.

Last year was one of the deadliest for illegal migrants looking to arrive in Europe by sea or land, with at least 4,400 deaths reported by the UN. However, the real figure is feared to be much higher.

Updated: January 21, 2022, 8:12 PM